When demagogues incite their followers to violence, they are to blame. Perhaps they are not solely responsible, but they play a key role, a bigger role than any other person. That is what Donald Trump either doesn’t understand- or understands all too well.
Controversy has emerged in recent days over a story carried by CNN in July that was co-written by Carl Bernstein of Watergate fame. In it, the story gets broken that Michael Cohen knew that Trump knew in advance about the infamous Trump Tower meeting in June 2016 between members of his campaign team and Russian individuals.
Cohen’s lawyer later said he misspoke, but CNN stands behind the story. Two of its employees told Business Insider senior politics reporter Allan Smith the network’s level of commitment to its story is “100%.”
On Wednesday, Trump called Watergate reporter Carl Bernstein, who co-wrote the piece, “sloppy” and a “degenerate fool” in response. Bernstein retorted on Twitter that he has spent his “life as a journalist bringing the truth to light, through administrations of both parties.”
That may be true, but it sure isn’t what Trump wants to hear. And it isn’t what he wants people to do. That’s why he’s always going on vile rampages and outbursts against the American press, people whose jobs are getting more dangerous by the day.
Earlier this year five journalists were massacred at the Annapolis Capital Gazette, and for a few days in the aftermath, Trump toned down his slanders and slurs. He invited New York Times publisher A.G. Sulzberger to the White House, and for a second it had started to look like things would be okay.
But the next day he reverted to his Stalinist slogan, “Enemy of the People“, to incite his followers to future mayhem.
Not long after, Trump held a “campaign” rally in Tampa. At it, a frenzied mob went berserk with reviles and rage toward CNN’s chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.
The scene left most of us who write about politics deeply shaken, including Acosta.
“It felt like we weren’t in America anymore,” Acosta said.
Earlier this week, a man named Robert D. Chain was arrested for allegedly threatening to murder journalists at the Boston Globe. He was said to have been mimicking Trump’s language.
“You’re the enemy of the people, and we’re going to kill every f***ing one of you.”
Anytime in the past that we’ve had this sort of thing, we’ve always come together to insist that we won’t have it. Whoever our leader has happened to be at the time has always done what they could to help things calm down. They certainly haven’t made it their policy to make things worse by inciting it.
The fact that Trump is doing just the opposite is yet another warning, a huge flashing neon sign, that things have gone wrong and we are now all in a really bad situation.
Earlier this year, we were dismayed to learn the U.S. has dropped to spot 45 in this year’s ranking of countries based on press freedom, conducted by the non-government association(NGO) Reporters Without Borders.
Their survey ranked 180 countries based on factors such as pluralism, transparency, and the quality of the infrastructure that supports the production of their news.
Unsurprisingly, the report specifically calls out Trump as the reason for the United States’ reduced standing.
“A media-bashing enthusiast, Trump has referred to reporters as ‘enemies of the people,’ the term once used by Josef Stalin,” the report says.
Trump has done more than anyone to appropriate and misuse the term “fake news” in retaliation for critical reporting, even though his campaign was the source of most of the garbage that brought the term into common use.
He also got us bad marks for revoking the broadcasting licenses of media outlets who are critical of him and his lousy policies.
Last year Trump released a doctored pro wrestling video of his halcyon days hanging out at the Madison Square Garden, clotheslining an opponent who has the CNN logo slapped over his head. It was pretty ridiculous to think that such a man is now our president, but that is nevertheless how it went.
The first time it was merely silly, but nobody is laughing now.
This morning, on the topic, the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent wrote that whether rhetorical excesses can be blamed for violence or the threat of it is a complicated topic, with no easy answers.
I’m not sure I agree. The complexity lies only in degree; it seems pretty clear that people can whip each other up into violence if they’ve got a stage and a microphone.
You don’t have to be Adolf Hitler or Charles Manson, either; there’s no wizardry of dialect needed. Limp Bizkit’s Fred Durst told his fans to “get angry” at Woodstock ’99, and they did, and people rioted, and a girl got gang-raped in the middle of the mosh pit.
Is Fred Durst a man who is blessed with the same rhetorical gifts as Cicero or Demosthenes? Doubtful, but he does at least seem to be better than Trump. Was he solely at fault? No. But he certainly helped to kick things off.
Likewise, our nation’s 45th president will have helped to kick off his own fanatical followers, if any of them decide again to actually do what he’s been nudging them to do, and treat members of the press as though they really were Enemies of the People.
Here at Millennial Democrats, we want to emphasize how important a free press is, how important it is to adhere to journalistic standards. Without one we’re back in the Dark Ages. The media is the friend of the people, because they bring the people its information. It’s good to promote this point of view, going forward.